Fresno Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are Fresno peppers?

It looks like a jalapeño and even tastes like a jalapeño, but the Fresno pepper has a few tricks up its sleeve that makes it a very popular chili in its own right. It delivers a slightly spicier medium heat (2,500 to 10,000 Scoville heat units), often like a mild serrano chili, and in its mature red form, the Fresno pepper has a more complex fruitier, smokier taste than a jalapeño. This is a favorite for foodies looking for a twist on the norm. Fresno chilies were first cultivated in 1952 by Clarence Brown Hamlin, and he named the chili after Fresno, California.

Fresno Pepper

Table of Contents

Fresno pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)2,500 – 10,000
Median heat (SHU)6,250
Jalapeño reference pointEqual heat (with the chance of slightly hotter)
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginUnited States
UseCulinary
SizeApproximately 2 to 3 inches long, slightly curved
Flavor Sweet, Fruity, Smoky

How hot are Fresno peppers?

On the Scoville scale, the Fresno chili ranges from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville heat units. That again closely mirrors the jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), but it can range closer to a mild serrano pepper (10,000 to 23,000 SHU) in overall heat in its mature red form.

Of course, this is a heat level that comes nowhere close to the level of cayenne (30,000 to 50,000 SHU) and it’s miles away from extra-hot peppers like the habanero (100,000 to 350,000 SHU). Overall: this is a heat level that’s very kitchen-friendly, on the milder side of medium compared to other chilies.

What does they look like?

Fresno peppers look a lot like jalapeños, so much so that they are often confused for each other. Fresnos are typically two to three inches long, slightly curved and tapering to a point. They have a smooth skin and mature from green to a fiery red.

What do Fresno peppers taste like?

While Fresno peppers are green, they have a grassy, bright taste, very similar to a jalapeño. It’s when the Fresno matures to red where their flavor really comes into its own. Fresnos take on sweets fruity flavor with a hint of smokiness there too. It’s a more complex flavor than what you get from red jalapeños (which have a sweetness to them as well.)

How can you visually tell the difference between a jalapeño and a Fresno pepper?

This can be very difficult. In fact, many supermarkets mistakenly mark Fresno peppers as jalapeños. And frankly, few would be the wiser. Visually, it’s near impossible without cutting open the chili, and even then you’d need a good understanding of a jalapeño to see the small differences.

The biggest visual tell is the thickness of the chili’s walls. Fresno chilies have thinner walls than jalapeños. This makes the Fresno a better drying chili, but the jalapeño a slightly better option for poppers recipes.

Cooking with Fresno peppers

The more complex flavors of the red Fresno compared to the jalapeño has made this a chili loved by foodies and gourmet restaurants. It’s a chili that’s ripe for culinary experimentation. But it’s also very usable day to day.

As a general rule of thumb: Any recipe that calls for a jalapeño or serrano pepper is fair game for a Fresno pepper. They are terrific in salsas, hot sauces, and ceviche, and they stuff decently well too (even with those thinner walls.) Pickled Fresno chilies are loved by many, and cutting them fresh into rings for sandwiches and burgers (like the jalapeño) is very popular too.

More cooking tips:

  • For the best eating experience, use Fresno chilies when they are red. Yes, green Fresnos are tasty, as well, but red is when they truly shine. Leaning into the depth of fruitiness and smokiness here is a great way to bring a meal to life. They pair very well with grilled meats and bolder BBQ especially.
  • If you have green Fresno peppers and want to ripen them to red off the vine, you may have options. Since Fresnos really take on their best flavor when red, it’s often the case that people want to age them. Read our post on ripening chilies to see what may be possible.
  • Wear gloves when prepping. Fresnos are low medium heat chilies, and they can be handled whole without much concern for chili burn. But, just like a jalapeño, it’s easy to then assume that all’s ok to chop these chilies without kitchen gloves. That’s guaranteed to lead to very uncomfortable chili burn. Wear kitchen gloves the minute you’re doing more than moving a Fresno from one place to another. And know how to treat chili burn in case it does happen to you.

What’s the best Fresno pepper substitute?

The best is the obvious jalapeño pepper. They look alike, have similar heat, and even (when green) have similar enough flavors. Be sure to use a red jalapeño if you’re looking for an alternative to the sweetness that Fresno chilies bring when that color. A red jalapeño is not nearly as complex, but still plenty flavorful. For more alternatives, read our article on good Fresno pepper substitutes.

–> Learn More: Red Jalapeño Vs. Green Jalapeño

Where can you buy Fresno chilies?

You can find them fresh in supermarkets and farmer’s markets, especially on the west coast of the United States. They can be mislabeled as jalapeños, and, as mentioned, it’s tough to tell the difference when standing in the store. Online it’s easy to find Fresno pepper seeds and red Fresno hot sauces, among other jarred and bottled Fresno-based condiments.

  1. Fresno Pepper Seeds (20+) by Refining Fire Chiles
  2. Fresno Pepper Seeds (20+) by Refining Fire Chiles
    $2.99

    Looking to test your green thumb by growing Fresno peppers? Refining Fire Chiles gets high marks for its seeds. In this package, you receive 20 at minimum.

    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

    05/19/2022 12:05 am GMT
  3. Red Clay Original Hot Sauce (featuring Fresno peppers)
  4. Red Clay Original Hot Sauce (featuring Fresno peppers)
    $2.03

    Fresno peppers are cold pressed and fermented in Red Clay's Original Hot Sauce. Ingredients: Fresno peppers, white wine vinegar, filtered water, kosher salt, and xanthan gum. 

    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

    05/19/2022 12:14 am GMT
  5. Hillside Harvest Pineapple Fresno Hot Sauce
  6. Hillside Harvest Pineapple Fresno Hot Sauce
    $9.99

    If you're a fan of heat and sweet, Hillside Harvest makes a Fresno pepper-based with plenty of natural citrus sweetness. Ingredients: distilled vinegar, organic pineapple juice, Fresno peppers, and salt.

    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

    05/19/2022 12:05 am GMT

The Fresno pepper may not be as widely available as the jalapeño, but if you do come across them in their mature red form, it’s well worth giving them a try. You may enjoy the uptick in spice and fruitier flavor. In fact, if you’re like many, it may be hard to go back to the jalapeño as your kitchen staple chili once you’ve tried the Fresno.


UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on April 20, 2022 to include new content.
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Woodwrecker

I don’t understand the confusion – Fresnos are much different in shape from Jalapenos. Fresnos are conical and taper to a pointed tip, Jalapenos always have a blunt tip.

Christopher Hampson

I read somewhere that when fully grown and red, Jalapenos develop brown stretch marks along the length, which I found on my own grown ones.
I over wintered what I thought was an Apache chilli plant which has provided an abundance of chillies but was surprised to find that the heat was nowhere as hot as expected, I suspect that they may be in fact Fresno, which do not have any stretch marks, this may be a way to help Identify them.

Carol W

I planted some ‘garden salsa’ peppers two years ago. They were labeled as hot but I was skeptical s to how hot they would be. We loved the peppers. They definitely had a great kick to them with a nice flavor, and a little bit of sweet, too. They make just awesome pepper jelly! I couldn’t find them anywhere last year but this year ordered seeds and am thrilled that the peppers are producing the great spicy sweet taste! I googled them and see they are a hybrid of the Fresno pepper. I always grow jalapeño peppers but have never… Read more »

Salient

I grow both Fresno and jalapeno peppers and have no trouble identifying them: Fresno are more conical, while Jalapeno are more cylindrical. They’re both delicious, fresh, cooked or pickled.
I personally like to “throw” in some Thai and Ghost peppers with them (when I pickle) for a some extra heat, to prevent me from eating half a jar (or more) in one seating.
In my view, Fresno are somewhat more flavorful.

Tom

I recently discussed the heat intensity of Fresno and Jalapeño with someone who grows them in Novato, CA and she said how much they are watered also does affect their flavor and Scoville units level. So I guess the larger ones might be watered more to attain greater size & plumpness which probably causes the mild flavor effect mentioned in others’ comments. The similarity may also sometimes fool the labels at Safeway because they do look alike to me. How wonderful to blend with the sweet bell peppers to create one’s own “relish-jam-jelly” for dips and glazes!

Kathi Anderson

Finally found some Fresnos for my pepoer jelly. Main difference.. jalepenos 1.29 a lb, fresnos, 12.99 a lb!
I hope they are good * and worth [email protected])

Brian of Nazareth

I much prefer the Fresno over the jalapeño. Is it just me or do jalapeños seem less hot than they used to be? To me, they now just taste like a spicy cucumber. I’ve also noticed that they seem to have gotten bigger. Maybe they’re bred that way because of the popularity of using them for making poppers and other recipes where they are stuffed.